As a thinker I often find myself, well, sitting and thinking. And while sitting back and analyzing has its benefits I am realizing it pales in comparison to actual experiences.
I can sit and ponder the meaning of life day in and day out, but pondering is only that, and it often leaves me in the same place from which I started. Sitting and thinking.
I was listening to Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles In a Thousand Years” today as I have so many times before. I seriously think I could listen to the same chapter over and over again and something different would jump out at me every time.
This time as I listened I was struck by the power of experience.
The getting out and doing something worth telling a story about. Donald, in his book, is determined to write a better story with his life. He is searching through what actually makes a great story when he realized how many times he had met friends in coffee shops for talks, and couldn’t remember any one in particular. They all blended together into a jumble of coffee shop memories.
He did, however remember very vividly the time when he and a close friend tied two canoes together and floated out on a lake for a picnic. It was different, it was experiential and he remembered it vividly.
It’s the same for me. When I think back on growing up, highschool years, college or the years Michael and I have been married most of it blends together into a slow dance of sorts with bursts of breakout moves.
The slow dance parts of my life I remember mainly in a big foggy clump. The breakout parts I remember with crystal clear clarity.
I remember winning the high jump in 4th grade. The rush of pride that overcame me as all of my classmates cheered me on was invaluable. I still have the medal I won that day.
I remember dancing across the stage with wild abandon in highschool. This was my last-ditch attempt to make ‘the cut’ in a play after a string of failures. I had decided it was now or never and either I would look like a fool flailing my arms and tossing my body awkwardly across stage or I would make the cut from sheer uniqueness. I made the part, and playing that part changed my life forever.
I remember walking through the Potala Palace in Tibet, the home of the Dalai Lama, the floor soft and greasy from thousands of years of burning candles made from yak oil. I remember eating a yakburger later and thinking the pungent meat reminded me of the smell of goats.
I remember showing orphan kids how to brush their teeth in Mongolia and seeing their eyes light up when we gave them their very own toothbrush. I remember one little boy’s name was “no name.” I couldn’t believe no one had ever bothered to name him.
I also remember taking care of my grandmom when she was still alive. I gave her a much-needed haircut for which she was thankful. I, however got a little cocky with my skills and ended up, “Sheering her like a poodle.” in my grandmothers words. We laughed in the mirror together as her gray curls hugged tightly against her small head. I also helped her shave the 5 hairs that seem to incessantly grow out of your chin as you get old.
I remember nearly tripping down the aisle to marry Michael. My dress was too long and with each step I took I kicked my dress with my blue sneakers to keep from tripping. I remember seeing his face when he saw me. It didn’t matter that I was kicking my dress as I walked. I have never seen eyes sparkle so brightly.
I remember saying goodbye to my new mom (Michael’s mom), just before she died. The cancer had shrunken her body to almost nothing. We kissed her and hugged her and told her we loved her, and that we would see her again soon. And we will. We will.
I remember huddling over our baby son at 3 in the morning feeding him with an eyedropper. Michael was by my side and both of us were haggard from a lack of sleep. I remember moments later hearing a loud scream and as I ran around the corner to help, I glimpsed Michael’s horrified face. His hands were holding our son’s legs in the air and poop was spraying across the room like pellets from a gun, hitting everything in it’s path.
These are all experiences. They are lived and breathed and woven into the fabric of who I am. They have shaped me and I have stories to tell from them.
Not all are happy stories, by any means, but life isn’t just lived in the happy stories. It is lived in the everyday, in the awakening and breathing in the touching and kissing and laughing and crying and loosing. But, it is enhanced and deepened by experiences.
Had I remained sitting and pondering life idly, I would have never jumped my heart out in 4th grade, challenging the horizons of my capabilities or smelled the yak candles in Tibet. I would have never danced my way to freedom in a highschool play, nearly tripped down the aisle to marry my love or met and loved and lost his beautiful mom. I would have never hugged an orphan with no name in Mongolia or laughed with my grandmom at her “sheered poodle” hair and 5 whiskers, or fed my beautiful baby boy from an eyedropper.
I love experiences, I do. I think they shape us. They give us depth, understanding and beauty. And they make our lives become a spectacular story.
Question: What standout experiences have helped shaped your life?